In the beginning, when we are born, everything becomes familiar. There is no border between the world and us. We are linked together with storm and lightning; water and its crystalline transparency invites us to disappear in it; the dancing fire, comes into our pupils and triggers our first questions about the cosmos and ants; about the invisible wind and the navigating birds on its lap; we know that the sun is nothing but a huge drop of gold that lies down behind the hills between white and powerful clouds.
Later on, the laws of men arrive: the ones that divide the homeland of recently opened eyes; then comes terror, and that which only a while ago was filial and friendly, turns into jaws and fangs; we hear about hell and agony, we know about death and the dust that awaits us.
Thus, we are taught from childhood, that the shadows are enemies; and that in their entrails of darkness, the countless beasts that pester us at night, are born. And in the most silent hour, they will come out from under our beds; between the cracks of old furniture or they will come riding winged monsters. Little by little they turn into flesh, they manifest in full light.
We get used to their uncomfortable presence. If we turn around the corner, we avoid looking at them, if they get on the bus we decide to choose another seat; the days will go by and they will turn into a horde, a crowd. We have forgotten that terror has to be discussed, that fires are started at night and that the real monsters are in the mirrors.
For this very reason, to Alberto Cruz (Oaxaca, 1982), childhood is war. A place where his graphic work serves as a call to reconciliation, to a confrontation against the monstrous and dark. It is the search for the child that lives in our nooks and crannies; crouching and trembling, who teaches us to name the world again.
So, in his prints, black ink turns into breath, and gets ready to name the world.
How do we face those fears, if not by naming them?
We then realize that those beasties look more like the kami that walk through the hills and rivers, the ones that swing between clouds heavy with rain, and laugh to the sound of lightning and thunder. Now, the darkness that used to be an enemy, takes shape; either as a cat, an alligator, an armadillo, a bird or a prehistoric beast.
So, the printmaker’s role in this drama; is to invoke, like a shaman, these fantasies, using gouge and graphite. The printmaker invokes the shadows, makes them dance, guides them to the light; but Alberto is not cruel, he does not expose them, he gives them shelter; he offers them a home.
It’s not for nothing that he chose linoleum and lithography as a field for the fantastic.
Both techniques take us back to the beginning of time, when rough walls were stained with dye. In the eyes of Alberto, these were not men hunting a deer, on the contrary, this was a dance between what was human and what was beastly; councils between beasts. To invoke them in stone meant to carry their strength, to control the primal forces. Linoleum allows the engraving of marked contrasts, as if the characters were around a bonfire, or rather, they were emerging from the fire like embers tamed by the printmaker.
However, when he uses color as a shape for his daydreams, he thinks of the wings of a Mexican grackle, that is, black litmus. The substance of shadows isn’t removed, he just covers it with iridescence, which reminds us of the royalty portrayed in Genji Monogatari, where the characters’ clothes consist of layers of various fabrics in different colors; always hiding the shadow that was being dressed. These colorful strokes don’t move away from the act of reconciliation, on the contrary, they emphasize it; proud of having been brought back to life.
Therefore, a zoo of tropes of shadows, becomes docile.
And this time, they serve as confidants, they become our allies; they are mount and refuge. They sit at the table with us, they protect us from bad dreams, they lend their bellies as pillows. When they sleep, they ask us to read for them; they talk about the land of dreams and nightmares. In the end, what they were looking for was a shelter where they could dwell, maybe they saw in our hearts: mangroves, forests, caves, cloudy skies and labyrinths.
As a result, Alberto puts himself in the print as a fabulist and a shaman. The former looks to lecture, not about morals, but rather about how to reclaim our right to riot and to contest. How can we defeat the real monsters that pester us today (capitalism being the most terrible one), if we do not reconcile our childhood with its first fears?
The second facet of his work is being a shaman, because he uses, like Borges in his tales, the ink mirror as a fantastical device, a source of infinite shadows that he makes dance like in a dream.
It’s hard not to see in his work the influence of Max Klinger, another prodigious master of taming the darkness, who has plenty of rotogravure works as well; and whose themes also drink from a relationship with dreams and nightmares, the latter coming from his research about psychoanalysis. Other marked influences are those of Roland Topor, and Castillo, who both show in their work hints of black humour, surrealism and nightmarish themes. But the works of the Oaxacan master radiate reconciliation and peace between what’s beastly and what’s human.
But, let's be honest, the influences that really mark a work of art, are the ones that touch the artist’s soul, the ones that germinate in his heart. So, inevitably, Shinzaburo Takeda’s influence as a mentor is fundamental in Alberto’s work, and it is where it gets the Japanese aesthetic from; which combines the colors of the world in black and white; as well as the discipline and the ceremony of Japanese prints.
Now, let’s get closer to his prints and drawings, as if we were sitting around a huge bonfire and we started hearing footsteps coming from afar; which will turn into roars and then, we will feel the presence of enormous creatures. Some of which will carry in their claws masks and capes, others, tricycles and books; everything’s ready for chatting and playing. And maybe, in the end, we’ll realize that we are all monsters, that we have a beast inside and that it’s necessary to let it speak, to give it a name. In this way we’ll know that we can fight injustice, that we have fangs and claws to defend ourselves from everyday’s tyrannies and that life is better with a monster by our side.
San Pedro Cholula, Puebla, June 25th, 2021.